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Suggestions on the Problem of 

Cleaning the Streets 

of Chicago 







[The physical conditions of life in Chicago can never be satisfactory 
until the streets of the City are properly cared for. In order to lay the 
foundation for an intelligent opinion as to the possible solution of the 
vexed problem of street cleaning, the Executive Committee of the City 
Homes Association asked Mr. Harry G. Selfridge to prepare a paper setting 
forth the results of his own study and practical experience. Mr. Selfridge, 
as is well known, was active a few years ago in an effort to improve the 
street cleaning facilities and service of Chicago. His work at that time and 
his continued interest in the subject commended him to the Association as 
one fitted to speak with the authority of an expert. Mr. Selfridge disclaims 
this special qualification, but has complied with the request by writing the 
following monograph. It is published by the City Homes Association, and 
distributed with the Report upon Tenement Conditions, in the hope that 
it may add an impulse to the agitation for municipal cleanliness and health- 


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To the President of the City Homes Association : 

In response to a request from you to prepare a paper upon "The 
cleaning of the streets and alleys of Chicago," I have gathered together 
some data, and a few suggestions, which are given below. I see no 
reason why I should be better informed upon this subject than any 
member ot your Association, except, possibly, that for six months in 
1895 a committee with which I was connected undertook, with the 
consent of the city authorities, to keep clean the fourteen miles of 
streets and seven miles of alleys in the business center of the city; 
during that period we learned something of the practical work 
of this kind, and with your permission I will allow that brief expe- 
rience to act now as the apology for attempting to offer any sug- 

5^ ***** * 

" Cleanliness" is one of the most attractive features of any city, 
of any building, of any home — clean air, clean streets, and pure 
water, are qualities which at once count many points in favor of any 
village, town, or city, just as clean floors and clean linen go far 
toward constituting good housekeeping — while the absence of any 
or all of these qualities, either in the city or in the home, causes 
criticism which many other good qualities fail to overcome. 

The stranger who visits that city whose air is impure, and whose 
highways are filthy, instinctively looks through prejudiced eyes, and 
all else, which may be beautiful and attractive, is less charming to 
him because of the natural prejudice thus formed: and that city 
which must continually apologize to its people and to its visitors 
because of filthy streets is handicapped to a very serious degree. • 

Street-cleaning in a large city is not a difficult problem, it is 
simply "house-cleaning by the f?iile,'" coupled with "everlastingly 
keeping at //"; it requires an organization formed on a business 
basis, to which must be added constant attention and a reasonable 
sum of money, which shall be intelligently spent. 

That little town in Holland (Broek) which boasts of being the 
"Cleanest city in the world," has won for itself, by means of this 


enviable title, sufficient renown to attract the attention of and a visit 
from nearly all tourists who pass within a reasonable distance of its 
charming influence. 

We can recall the New York of ten or a dozen years ago, with 
its dirty and poorly paved streets, and compare it now with the 
same streets — many of them splendidly paved with asphalt (which 
as a street service permitting the greatest cleanliness is easily the 
best of all pavements) — practically all of which streets are kept 
well cleaned. New York has made wonderful strides toward lead- 
ership during these last ten years. She is far and away the metrop- 
olis of the United States, but her chief attractiveness has for its 
foundation stone the well paved, cleanly kept streets — and to prove 
this let us imagine the New York of to-day, but with the rough, 
noisy, dirty streets of ten years ago, and how much of the attract- 
iveness would vanish; how much less would its hotels be filled with 
money-spending visitors; how much less pride would its citizens 
have in their city, and how many less would be attracted to that 
city to make it their home! 

Now if we couple this condition of dirty streets with an atmos- 
phere surcharged with greasy soot — an atmosphere which forces its 
acquaintance upon one, and always leaves its soot-begrimed card — 
we can readily imagine such a New York as far from an ideal 
dwelling place or visitors' haven. Stately buildings would hardly 
overcome these obstacles, other pleasing features would be too 
seriously handicapped to survive, and much of the charm would be 

Chicago is really in quite such a position to-day. Its many 
handsome buildings, its beautiful (if clean) drives, and its attractive 
features are so handicapped by the dirt in the streets, and the soot 
in the atmosphere, that it actually requires a standing apology from 
each of its citizens. Can these handicaps be removed? They cer- 
tainly can, if the citizens of this city decide to remove them, and 
are willing to work to that end, and to pay the cost of the same. 

Let us examine the expense account of the New York Street 
Cleaning Department. The last report I have been able to obtain 
states that in that portion of Greater New York included in Man- 
hattan Island and the borough of Bronx — in which there are 552 
miles of paved and 232 miles of unpaved streets and no alleys- 
there was expended during twelve months for street cleaning, and 


for the removai of garbage, street sweepings, snow and ice, about 
S3, 300,000, and this amount in detail is made up as below : 

Administration $ 200,000 

Sweeping 1,300,000 

Carting 900,000 

■ Final disposition (such as dumping in 

ocean, etc.) 525,000 

Rents, etc 95,000 

Removing snow and ice 280,000 

Total $3,300,000 

And if this is as cheaply as it can be done, it is worth all that it 
costs. In the above and following tables round figures are used. I 
have no data as to the share of the above amount expended on street 
cleaning alone, but I may add that the appropriation for 1901 for 
the above district is $3,482,000, and for the entire city of Greater 
New York it is $4,961,000. 

Greater New York contains : 

Of paved streets i>737 miles 

Of unpaved streets-- - 770 " 

Total 2,507 " 

and no alleys. 

As noted above, its appropriations for 1901 for street cleaning 
and garbage removal is nearly $5,000,000. 

Chicago contains: 

Of paved streets 1,205 miles 

Of unpaved streets.- 1,584 " 

Of paved alleys — 118 " 

Of unpaved alleys - 1,244 " 

Total 4, 1 5 1 " 

And this city's expenditures for 1900 were: 

For street cleaning $360,694 

For garbage removal 441,391 

Total - $802,085 

Thus we see that Chicago, with 6j per cent more miles of streets 
and alleys, expends for keeping clean only one-sixth the amount used 
by New York, or placed upon the same basis which New York is on, 


and assuming that both cities cleaned their unpaved streets, this 
city would require over $8, 000,000 per annum for street cleaning 
and garbage removal. This statement is of no value except for 
comparison, unless to show that New York is paying well for being 
the cleanest large city on this continent, and one of the cleanest 
in the world. Chicago's streets would respond just as quickly to 
the broom. Our soil is not to blame. Our streets, though level, 
and often ill-paved, are not to blame. The physical conditions, 
although far from ideal, are not to blame. The reason this city is 
dirty is because the necessary amount of money is not appropriated 
and expended; and in my judgment the appropriation for keeping 
cleau is perhaps the very most importafit item of the ivhole city budget. 

For the purpose of making estimates, may I give an illustration 
or two? For example: Let us take the amount paid by the South 
Park Commissioners for cleaning the 41^ miles of improved 
streets under their charge. 

For "the year ending November 30, 1900, this board expended 
$42,913, or Si, 027 per mile. This, too, is worth all it costs. This 
cost includes the washing and squeegeeing of Jackson Street from 
end to end every night when not prevented by frost. It also in- 
cludes the carting away of much surface dirt from macadam streets, 
which in wet weather wear down rapidly. 

The board does not attempt to keep any of the streets clear of 
snow except Jackson Street and the north end of Michigan avenue, 
and when there is sufficient snow for sleighing this even is not 

One more illustration of the cost of cleaning streets in Chicago: 

The committee heretofore referred to cleaned, for the period 
from May ist until November 3rd, 1895, the fourteen miles of 
streets and seven miles of alleys occupying the three-quarters of a 
mile square in the very busiest center of the city, and were obliged 
to do it all by hand, as they had neither money nor sufficient per- 
manency to buy sweeping plants. This committee also raised by 
subscription the money to pay its bills, and of this amount, viz., 
§27,000, about ID per cent was required for office rent, secretary's 
and collector's salaries, printing, etc. With the $24,000 remaining, 
the committee cleaned, by hand, every foot of street and alley sur- 
face from two to ten times every day except Sundays. It was 
necessary to pay $3.50 per day for wagons to haul away the sweep- 
ings, and all debris had to be carted to the north side dumping- 


grounds, thus permitting only three, or very rarely four, loads a day 

for each wagon. Now, twenty-one miles of streets and alleys 

cleaned every day for six months — 150 days — means 3,150 miles of 

streets and alleys cleaned; and this at a cost of $24,000 means 

S7.60 per mile, for work done by hand, and not at all in the most 

economical manner, but in an absolutely honest manner, and with 

an organization conducted on strict business rules. All sweepers 

received $1.50 per da}', and no man's job depended upon any one's 

recommendation, but solely upon his ability to work hard, earnestly, 

and as intelligently as he could, all day. No man's letter could 

reinstate a man once discharged, and no workman was discharged 

except for cause. The men wore jean uniforms and caps (paid for 

from the $24,000). Every man was given the best of brooms, and 

from every man was expected, always, his best. 

* »St * * * * * 

So much for this experiment during the months which saw no 
snow. The cleaning of streets during the winter is a very different 
problem — not a difficult problem to solve, but one requiring more 
money, and never possible to work out so satisfactorily. 

In one night we may have a fall of snow the removal of which alone 
would cost Sioo,ooo — indeed New York has spent sums approaching 
this figure more than once to remove the result of one snowstorm— 
and when we see the streets of the down-town portion of this city 
of Chicago fairly well cleaned, as we have this last winter, and at a 
large cost, and then see another snowstorm follow immediately, the 
effect is at least chilling. 

The fable of the wager between the sun and the wind as to their 
respective ability to remove the traveler's coat is beautifully illus- 
trated in the cleaning of streets after a heavy fall of wet snow. The 
cleaner works and picks and shovels, and the teamster hauls load 
after load with but slight effect upon miles of snow, ice, and slush, 
while the warm sun in one hour will do more toward removing the 
snow than thousands of laborers could accomplish in the entire 

It must, therefore, be taken for granted that except for the 
down-town district, or at crossings, or in certain other parts of the 
city, the general, immediate, or complete cleaning up and carting 
away of the snow cannot be undertaken or expected until this city 
has several millions which can be appropriated for street cleaning. 

Records show, however, that there are only about from twenty- 

seven to thirty days each year in which snowstorms visit this city, 
and many of those are very light — from one-tenth of an inch 
upward, while such heavy falls as that of last February are of rare 

■5^ ^ ^ T^ ■9p 9it ^ 

We all know that the most frequented parts of the house, the 
store, or the city, require the most frequent cleaning, so it becomes 
possible to divide the streets and alleys of Chicago in classes and to 
devote attention to each class in proportion to the trafific upon its 

The proportion between paved and unpaved streets is constantly 
changing as new streets and alleys are being paved; furthermore a 
number of miles are under control of the park boards; but let us 
assume that there are in Chicago 1,200 miles of streets and 100 
miles of alleys, which must be cleaned with more or less frequency. 
The unpaved streets cannot well be made attractive, and until the 
paved portion is cared for may, perhaps, require no great atten- 

Of these 1,300 miles, I estimate: 
lofo should be cleaned once or more each week-day, 

making for year total of 40,560 miles 

lofo should be cleaned three times each week, making 

for year 20,280 

lofo should be cleaned twice each week, making for 

year total of 13,520 

10% should be cleaned once each week, making for 

year total of 6,760 

30^ should be cleaned every two weeks, making for 

year total of - 10,140 

30% should be cleaned every month, making for year 

total of 4,680 

Total 95.940 

And while such a division might not give everything which would 
be desired, it would seem to take care fairly well of this city's wants 
at a cost which, with present revenues, would not be prohibitory. I 
have gone over the streets in detail and could itemize the above to 
a degree which would be tiresome to read, and not necessary for 
this paper. 

Now the organization which would clean during the year 96,000 

miles of streets, could be formed without difficulty, if permitted to 
be conducted on absolutely business principles, and civil service 
rules could be applied to such an organization without trouble — the 
great requirement being that the managers should obtain from 
every portion of the organization good and sufficient labor during 
every day employed. The work could, of course, be more effective 
if the organization could be permanent, so that money-saving 
plants could be owned by the organization — furthermore, perma- 
nency would insure a continuance of an established policy, as opposed 
to a continual change in policy — all of which is important to suc- 
cess with economy. 

Allowing the expense of the South Park Board to guide us, we 
find that to clean the 1,300 miles of streets and alleys from once or 
oftener a day to once a month (dependent upon sweeping when 
necessary), would cost about $318,000, or figured on the basis of 
the work done by the committee in 1895, at $7.60 per mile, the 
work would cost $729,000. 

It is probable that the first estimate is far too low, as many of 
the park driveways are used in a way to make expensive and fre- 
quent sweeping unnecessary. The second estimate would be nearer 
right except for the cost of removing snow from the down-town dis- 
trict. In considering the amount ($7.60) expended by the committee 
in 1895 we must recognize, however, that in the entire city the paved 
alleys are but one-tenth of the whole, while in the down-town sec- 
tion the alleys are one-third of the whole, and the alleys are cheaper 
to sweep than streets. Therefore, all things considered, I estimate 
that the paved portion of the city should be kept clean, and the 
snow fairly well removed from the down-town sections, the street 
crossings throughout the city, etc., for the sum of $800,000 for the 
year, to which should be added $50,000 for the purchase of the 
necessary street-sweeping machinery, horses, and up-to-date tools — 
a total of $850,000, and it is quite possible that of such an appro- 
priation all need not be spent. 

May I say that the work done by the city street cleaning depart- 
ment should always fairly be coupled with the amount of money 
which it has to work with. No street cleaning organization in the 
world can keep the streets of this great city as clean as they should 
be upon the small sum now appropriated for the purpose — and this 
city is especially great in area — an unfortunate and exceedingly 
expensive point in which to excel. 

The "Clean City" ordinance recently passed by the Council is 
wise and meritorious, and only needs living up to to relieve our 
streets of much of the dirt and debris which is continually being 
thrown upon them. 


If our City Council will but act as a "committee of the whole" 
on the subject of making this a clean city\ and will devote as many 
hours and evenings as is necessary to thoroughly threshing the mat- 
ter out — if each alderman will consider the question from the stand- 
point of the entire city's good, and not from that of his ward only, 
if this committee of the whole will determine that those methods 
must be adopted which will produce cleanliness at the least cost, 
and will appropriate a sufficient sum to pay for the work, even to 
the extent of cutting down any or all other items in the budget, 
if it will then appoint a committee, the members of which take a 
personal pride and put enthusiasm into the work, and who will give 
it enough time to know every day that it is being done well — if the 
Council will do this the whole city will rise and praise the act, every 
citizen's respect will increase for his city, and Chicago will be able 
to rub out the mud stain which has so long been upon its name. 

Cleanliness dignifies, refines, and increases respect. Filth marks 
down whatever it is connected with. The growing children of 
the city instinctively take on the condition of the city. Cleanliness 
in the city grows into the life and character of the child and he recog- 
nizes its importance. Children always surrounded with filth grow 
accustomed to it and fail to realize its iniquitous contamination. 
Children brought up in a clean city will, I believe, show this bring- 
ing up in later years and will repay by loyalty, interest, and affection 
all that that cleanliness may cost. 

The people of this city are crying for cleanliness juore than for any 
other one thing. Many public matters require attention and the 
city's income is far too small to meet all calls, but cleanliness at any 
cost we should have. Cleanliness first, any and all other require- 
ments afterward. This city can be clean if the citizens through their 
Council say the word. 

And why should we not be a clean city? It is vital to our 
prestige, to our comfort, almost to our happiness, and certainly vital 
to our self-respect as a community.* 


♦Note: This paper was written in March, 1901, and before the present interest in 
"cleaning the city streets" had manifested itself. Jt is to be sincerely hoped that this 
interest will grow stronger and will not be allowed to die out.